The issue of food waste, though always a constant, conscious issue for chefs, propelled its way into the public consciousness in 2015 and has been building its case ever since.
There has been Roy Choi and Daniel Patterson, who have been building a food-waste fuelled, responsible fast-food chain Loco’l in the US, former St. JOHN chef Douglas McMaster with the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant Silo in Brighton, which is now due to expand, a slew of apps and social schemes that have helped to link would-be food waste to willing recipients, and, in London, we’ve just experienced the magic of Dan Barber, food-waste revolutionary and owner of Blue Hill Farm in New York, in his month-long wastED pop-up on Selfridges famous rooftop space.
wastED’s diners emerged from their experience evangelical about the food-waste message portrayed, wooed by the likes of the juice-pulp bacon cheeseburger made from a repurposed bread bun, waste piccalilli, beetroot runoff ketchup and bacon from a waste-fed pig, or rescued veal nuggets with smoked tomato seconds ketchup, mango-scrap and ginger-mulch chutney with ash mayonnaise.
But waste is not just a fashionable theme for restaurants – the trend is powered by its universal relevance and sobering importance… roughly one third of the food produced in the world is wasted, that’s an approximate 1.3 billion tonnes. A calamity starving the world – literally – of much-needed food and wasting precious resources.
So where to start? For us, it’s all about the menus. Inspired by the latest innovations in the rapidly evolving world of food waste, I’ve created the following stem-to-root recipes for bringing to life commonly discarded ingredients. Ugly though they may be, all they need is a little love and goodwill to be transformed into something worthy of the space on your plate.
Known and loved for its distinctive aniseed-y flavour, fennel enjoys its UK season from June to the end of September – but tradition has made us throw away the off-cuts, stalks and fronds that surround the bulb… even though they have just as much to offer in taste and nutrition.
For would-be throw-away fennel stalks, sauté in butter with salt and pepper and finish with a spritz of lemon to lift. Then blitz the green fronds with garlic, olive oil and salt, and use to dazzlingly accompany a fillet of pan-fried sea trout.
Everyone favours the pop of pink pepperiness of radish in the spring time, but what about its oft-forgotten greens? The spiciest part of the radish, radish greens are full of piquant flavour and have a satisfyingly crunchy texture, with its leaves giving a milder taste, with a soft texture like spinach.
Especially lush at the moment, radish greens make a wonderful spring tart: spread the radish greens on the bottom of a blind-baked shortcrust savoury tart, crumble over some mild goats cheese, then snip over some spring-onion tops and fill with cream and eggs. Then bake and let cool for 30 minutes before serving with a spring herb salad – perfect for lunch, al fresco.
Our sister company, food and drinks trends platform Flavour Feed, has predicted watermelon is due its time in the spotlight – and with Beyoncé backing a watermelon water company set for world domination, how could you argue?
The ultimate summer refresher, the flesh is juicy and hydrating, while the rind has a pleasingly bitter flavour that works well pickled or cooked. For the perfect Asian BBQ accompaniment, cook watermelon rind in a spiced syrup with ginger, star anise, chilies and cinnamon. It makes a spicy, warming, pleasing pairing for pork or duck dishes, or is superlative in an Asian slaw with sticky Korean fried chicken.
Broccoli florets have long been heralded as a lynchpin of good nutrition, but what about the stalks that allow these florets to flourish? Thick and sturdy, the stalks are versatile and forgiving, with a slightly sweet taste.
To uncover the virtues of broccoli stalks, peel away the tough outer layer to reveal the emerald green flesh inside boasting a wonderful flavour… ideal for use in stir fries with ginger, chilli, garlic and soy sauce, or sautéed in olive oil with garlic, chilli and anchovy to dress penne pasta.
Spiralised Vegetable Cores, Cabbage and Cauliflower Cores and Stumps:
Raw and flying solo, these ingredients might well be perceived as lacking, but when thoughtfully cooked and combined, they shine.
To be doubly virtuous (and on trend), poach these spiralised vegetable cores and cabbage and cauliflower cores and stumps in a chicken stock leftover from your Sunday roast, and add shaoxing wine, salt and plenty of freshly ground white pepper to make a broth that serves as a restorative kick-start to the week.
A symbol of European seasonality, artichoke, with its hearts and tender inner leaves, are cherished, while the tougher, pointy outer leaves are often discarded. But all they need is a little care for their delicious potential to be unlocked.
Save these outer leaves and boil until tender, for 8 to 10 minutes, then load with crumbled feta cheese, crushed fresh peas, green chilli, mint and a drizzle of olive oil for a healthy spring riff on crowd-pleasing nachos.
With more nutrition and flavour packed into vegetable peels than the flesh, finding creative uses for these off-cuts is joyful and worthwhile.
Parsnip and beetroot provide particularly flavourful canvases to work from… keep these to infuse into colourful and aromatic earthy vinegars for drizzling over salads.